Center for American Progress

RELEASE: CAP Releases Series on How Social Determinants of Health Affect Early Childhood Development
Press Release

RELEASE: CAP Releases Series on How Social Determinants of Health Affect Early Childhood Development

Washington, D.C. — Social and economic policy are not often considered directly related to early childhood development. However, a recent series from the Center for American Progress details how targeting policies and services to address the needs of children and families across three key developmental stages—the perinatal period, infancy and toddlerhood, and the preschool years—presents a unique opportunity for improving long-term societal health, educational, and economic outcomes.

The social determinants of health, which include social and community context, education, neighborhood and environment, health care, and economic stability, represent a suite of nonclinical factors that shape long-term health and well-being and begin exerting their influence early in life. Moreover, systemic inequities in accessing basic needs such as safe housing, food security, educational opportunities, and high-quality health services disproportionately affect marginalized and low-income communities, exacerbating disparities that have lasting, intergenerational consequences.

The final report in the series, published today, examines how social determinants of health—especially lack of access to affordable child care, preventive health care, and safe and supportive environments—have long-term, adverse impacts on preschoolers’ health. For instance, the report finds:

  • Climate change and environmental racism present the earliest and most severe risks for children and families of color.
  • Continuous coverage affects children’s access to well-child visits and the vaccinations that protect them against preventable diseases.
  • Racial disparities in preschool suspensions and expulsions can have long-term impacts on children’s schooling, particularly for children of color.
  • Early childhood exposure to air pollution and environmental toxins has well-documented negative effects on cognitive and motor development, while also limiting the safety of outdoor play.
  • Previously redlined neighborhoods have higher levels of air pollution and greater numbers of drilled and operated oil and gas wells, compared with non-redlined neighborhoods.
  • Indigenous communities face disproportionately high rates of food and water insecurity.

“Children do not live in silos; they are a product of the environments into which they are born and raised,” said Hailey Gibbs, senior policy analyst for Early Childhood Policy at CAP and co-author of the series. “Paying particular attention to the early years of development in creating a strong family-centered policy agenda is key to improving health and well-being and promoting equity for this generation and the next.”

“Development is a continuous process—something we have worked to capture in this series of reports,” said Allie Schneider, research associate for Early Childhood Policy at CAP and co-author of the series. “Investments we make in children’s health and development early in life help to set them on a stage for better life outcomes and reduce racial, economic, and health inequities.”

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Julia Cusick at [email protected].

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